Agriculture to feature as a key issue on the Road to Durban: opens up critical debates

Posted June 27, 2011 by Shefali Sharma   


Shefali Sharma blogged from Bonn, Germany climate talks. See her presentation from IATP's official side event for more.

As the UNFCCC negotiations came to a close Friday evening (June 17) in Bonn, the stage was set for a heated fight on agriculture as governments head to Durban for COP 17. South Africa, as well as the United States, have indicated that they would like to see agriculture as a “deliverable” in Durban.  

There are nonetheless numerous issues of contention to be resolved: what the defining focus of agriculture should be in the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action (LCA ) under the negotiating agenda “cross-sectoral approaches and Bonn  sector-specific actions” (linked to the Convention Article 4, para (c)[1]); whether parties will agree to launch an agriculture work program in the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technical Advice (SBSTA) and when; if so, what the scope of prioritizing adaptation and food security would be; and what role carbon markets and agriculture offsets will play in emissions reductions and accounting loopholes.

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On dead zones, flooding and money

Posted June 21, 2011 by    

Algal Blooms Lake Erie. That’s how big this year’s dead zone—the largest ever—in the Gulf of Mexico is likely to be, according to National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration predictions.

Dead zones (aka hypoxic zones) are low-oxygen aquatic areas that can no longer support life. They form when algal blooms, fed by nutrient pollution, eat up all available oxygen. Much of this pollution enters the water far upstream in the form of nutrient run-off from farm fields. For the Gulf of Mexico, it’s the corn and soybean fields of the Upper Mississippi River Basin that are the primary nutrient contributors.

There are lots of elements that contribute to dead zone formation, but this year’s record-breaker is the result of three primary factors:

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Agriculture in the spotlight at Bonn climate talks

Posted June 16, 2011 by Ben Lilliston   

UNFCCC IATP's Shefali Sharma is blogging from the UN climate talks in Bonn, Germany. See her presentation from IATP's official side event for more.

The two-week climate talks in Bonn are supposed to be winding down tomorrow. Some countries will take up the issue of agriculture again in informal sessions closed to observers. During week one, heated debates took place about what to “do” with agriculture in the UNFCCC. In the Cancún final decision at COP 16, the agriculture chapter was taken out of the track known as Long-term Cooperative Action (LCA). However, this year, countries such as New Zealand, Canada and Switzerland have been pushing to bring it back. New Zealand and Canada are major agriculture exporters and would like to see the topic of agriculture emissions handled with care. One area of contention, though not openly shared, is livestock-related emissions and competition with major meat exporters such as Argentina and Brazil. 

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Lessons for Africa's carbon exchange

Posted April 22, 2011 by Ben Lilliston   

Later this month, carbon market investors will gather in Nairobi at a meeting hosted by the World Bank's International Finance Corporation. The meeting will connect heavy hitters in the carbon market world like Barclays Bank, JP Morgan, and the German bank KfW with African project managers.

Part of the reason for the meeting is the March 24 launch of the Africa Carbon Exchange (ACX). The ACX is positioning itself as the hub of climate change business on the African continent. But as IATP's Shefali Sharma writes in a new commentary, "existing and attempted carbon emissions exchanges in Europe and the United States have suffered one blow after another—fraud, carbon credit theft, poor legislative design, even profits for some major polluters—all at the expense of ordinary citizens and the environment." Due to these failures, Bloomberg recently characterized carbon trading as "a backwater of the global commodities market."

Shefali writes, "There is a real danger that carbon offsets will become a major policy distraction and capital diversion from the real climate change challenges that Africa faces: the urgent task of climate change adaptation and ensuring resilience of communities." You can read the full commentary here.

 

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Five reasons carbon markets won't work for agriculture

Posted April 12, 2011 by Karen Hansen-Kuhn   

Used under creative commons license from illustir.

Carbon markets are viewed as the primary source of climate financing. The experience to date demands a reevaluation of their ability to exact real, sustainable change, particularly in relation to agriculture. Here are five reasons why poorly designed and regulated carbon markets should not be part of a global climate treaty.

1. The high cost to people, health and the climate

Market-based mechanisms aim “to enhance the cost-effectiveness of, and to promote, mitigation actions.” But thus far, carbon emissions trading has been cost-effective only for those firms that have received billions of dollars in carbon credits for free from governments that can afford to subsidize their industries. It is certainly not cost-effective for the millions of people whose health is impaired because they live near industrial facilities that choose to buy offset credits rather than invest in pollution prevention. (U.S. courts are beginning to investigate the public health effects of carbon markets.) Nor is it cost-effective for the indigenous peoples dispossessed of their land to make way for carbon-offset investors’ projects.

Market-based mechanisms should be evaluated according to broader criteria, such as vulnerability, harm to food production and sustainable development, and on the basis of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities.

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World Water Day statement from the Water Justice Movement, March 22, 2011

Posted March 23, 2011 by Shiney Varghese   

World Water Day is observed every year on March 22 as a day of action to draw attention to the role that fresh water plays in our world and lives, and the challenges that lie ahead in realizing right to water for all. The past year has been momentous as far as the advancement of right to water goes. There have been two developments in the U.N. system in 2010, both of which uphold the state’s responsibility in ensuring the right to water. The first was the United Nations General Assembly Resolution of July 28, 2010 and the second has been the U.N. Human Rights Commission Resolution of September, 2010.

Acknowledging these and other developments around the world as well as outlining the broad contours of the challenges communities face in realizing the right to water, the following statement has been prepared for this World Water Day by all who are part of the water justice movement.

World Water Day Statement from the Water Justice Movement March 22, 2011

On World Water Day 2011, with water justice activists around the world mobilizing to assert the right to water and sanitation for people and communities, to preserve water as part of an ecological trust and to ensure that water is democratically controlled by the people in the public interest, we issue this short statement to reflect on both recent victories toward implementation of the right to water as well as the challenges and threats that remain ahead.

We are heartened by passage this past year of two resolutions within the U.N. system that have further affirmed the right to water and the obligations governments must fulfill to uphold this right. The first resolution, passed in July 2010 in the U.N. General Assembly was championed by leading countries in Latin America, including Bolivia, as well as other countries in the global South, and its passage marked the first time this body had gone on record formally acknowledging the right to water and sanitation.

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The Brazil connection: agriculture, biofuels and land use

Posted March 16, 2011 by Ben Lilliston   

Today, four IATP staff will lead a small delegation of U.S. environmentalists, academics and corn/biofuel producers down to Brazil (we'll be reporting here on the trip throughout the next week). We're traveling to Brazil to learn more about something called "indirect land-use change" (ILUC)—a concept that has important implications for farmers, food security, the climate and, of course, land in both Brazil and the United States.

Indirect land-use change, very broadly, is the idea that what we grow on agricultural land in the U.S. affects agricultural production in other parts of the world. For example, more corn grown in the U.S. to meet biofuel markets has come at the expense of soybean production, signaling soybean producers in other parts of the world to expand production, often damaging the environment, so goes ILUC thinking. Disagreements over whether ILUC actually takes place, and if so, how much is occuring, have been part of heated debates over California's low-carbon fuel standards, national renewable fuel standards, the EU's biofuel mandates and at global climate talks. Disputes over ILUC have frequently pitted environmentalists against farmers.

ILUC discussions also often include Brazil. Like the U.S., Brazil has a booming biofuel sector. Like the U.S., it is a major player on international agricultural markets, particularly for soybeans and sugar. While the U.S. has long transformed most of its native landscape into farmland and cities, Brazil is still home to some of the most unique, biodiverse ecosystems in the world, including the Amazon and the Pantanal. And the biggest threat to these environmental treasures is expanded agricultural production.

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Reflections on right to water

Posted February 24, 2011 by Shiney Varghese   

This week, the U.N. Independent Expert on the issue of human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation, Ms. Catarina de Albuquerque, will visit the United States, giving us an opportunity to pause and reflect: What does right to water entail?

In early February, addressing the World Social Forum, the  Bolivian President Evo Morales said “We are going to go the U.N. to declare that water is a basic public need that must not be managed by private interests, but should be for all people, including people of rural areas."1

While some might disagree with his assertion that water should not be managed by private interests, few would challenge the idea that water should be for all. President Morales is calling for an expansion of right to water on two fronts, both in terms of its reach (to larger numbers) and in terms of its scope (to support life).Coming from the president of a nation, this is a very important statement in the international campaign towards the right to water. It seeks to connect the right to water to the right to life, which is central to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948, Article 3.)

Given that nearly three-quarters of the “water poor” belong to rural communities, it is high time that international deliberations around the right to water focus on rural communities access to safe water. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) obliges states to protect all human rights, but first and foremost, the right to life. It also obliges states to protect its citizens' cultural diversity, and their right to an adequate standard of living, including the right to food. For rural communities, realization of each of these rights is dependent on their ability to access water in their immediate environment.

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A festival for social justice: reporting from the World Social Forum

Posted February 10, 2011 by Ben Lilliston   

It is now the fourth day of this great festival of ideas, discussions and debates about the key political issues of our times and the struggles taking place at local, national, regional and international levels to achieve social justice. The focus is inevitably on African issues of struggle and the various forces impacting local communities and national and Pan African trajectories.

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Women at the center of climate-friendly approaches to agriculture and water

Posted February 9, 2011 by Ben Lilliston   

Extreme weather events consistent with climate change are already playing havoc with the livelihoods and food security of much of the world’s poor. This is particularly true for arid and semi-arid areas of the global South. Yet, most proposals for agriculture being discussed at the U.N. global climate talks and elsewhere focus on new technological developments, like genetically engineered crops. But these approaches are based on still unproven claims and do not fully consider their impact on the natural world.

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